Peterborough Panthers were left breathing a sigh of relief last night (May 7) – for two reasons.
The first of those was the scoreline as the city club made a triumphant – if not altogether convincing - return to the track after a lay-off of more than a fortnight.
They beat SGB Championship leaders Edinburgh 48-45 at the East of England Arena although it ended up being a tighter tussle than anticipated against a table-topping side weakened by the absence of two of their star performers – German brothers Erik and Mark Riss.
And the second source of comfort was seeing high-scoring reserve star Bradley Wilson-Dean walk away from a frightening heat 14 crash in which he and Monarchs guest Danny Ayres ploughed into the air fence.
The two riders became tangled going into the first corner after Wilson-Dean’s bike reared into the air, but the fact both men emerged relatively unscathed was a fine tribute for the safety barriers now used in the sport.
Ayres was even able to take his place in the re-run, which was staged following a delay of around 40 minutes for repair work, and Wilson-Dean would have done the same . . . had he not been excluded by referee Barbara Horley for causing the smash.
“I don’t mind admitting the scoreline was a little closer than I expected it to be,” said Johnson.
“But it doesn’t matter about which riders a team is missing. Everyone starts on zero and needs to pick up enough points to win the meeting.
“We managed to do that even though we didn’t have one of our best nights. It was an important victory at the start of a busy spell in our season.
“We’re also thankful that Bradley – and Danny, too - are okay after a really high-speed crash.
“It’s just lucky we have air fences these days. They both slammed in full bore and it’s great they could both walk away.”
Wilson-Dean again contributed well for Panthers with his previous four riders earning 9+1.
Number one Jack Holder was the home side’s highest scorer with a dozen points. He won three of his races – a feat matched by Paul Starke, who then tumbled out of the finale after suffering a broken chain.
Luckily, Panthers only needed to have one finisher in that race to secure victory, but they saw their advantage cut from five points to three as Edinburgh claimed a 4-2 in the re-run.
That arrived courtesy of a Ricky Wells success and Sam Masters third place as the visiting pair sandwiched Holder, and was enough to earn them a consolation point.
Panthers led for the vast majority of the contest with the biggest gap between the sides standing at 10 points after a run of three 5-1s in the space of four races.
But that double-figures margin gave Edinburgh the chance to deploy Masters on a tactical ride in heat 11 and he cashed in for six points by taking victory.
Third place for exciting Australian prospect Josh Pickering, who rode well in his first Alwalton appearance, earned the visitors a 7-2 which halved their deficit, and it shrunk again in the last heat.
Panthers were back to full-strength with Kenneth Hansen over the health problem which kept him out of their last four meetings.
The Dane started with back-to-back heat wins before suffering a retirement when scrapping with Pickering for that third spot. He also brought up the rear in heat 13 when Holder excelled to beat Wells and Masters.
Hansen’s return allowed captain Ulrich Ostergaard to revert to the number four berth, from where he starred in two 5-1s with Starke. Ostergaard also won the re-run of the penultimate contest.
Simon Lambert’s tough start to the campaign continued as he managed just 3+2 while reserve Tom Bacon twice hit the deck while failing to score.
“The team is built to have strength in depth,” continued Johnson. “The fact we’re having a few too many last places is a slight concern, but we’re working hard with riders to get them into form.
“I’m not too worried by the fact a couple of teams have left here with a league point. It’s a wide open league and we’ve already picked up results on the road.”
Panthers climbed to fifth in the SGB Championship standings as a result of their latest success. They are just two points outside the play-off places and have meetings in hand on all four teams currently above them.
They’re back in action this Saturday (May 13, 7pm) when they entertain Newcastle Diamonds.
PANTHERS: Jack Holder 12, Paul Starke 11, Bradley Wilson-Dean 9+1, Ulrich Ostergaard 7+2, Kenneth Hansen 6, Simon Lambert 3+2, Tom Bacon 0.
EDINBURGH: Sam Masters 12+2, Ricky Wells 10+1, Danny Ayres (guest) 8+1, Josh Pickering 7, Max Clegg 4+1, Mitchell Davey 3+1, Ben Morley (guest) 1+1.
1 - re-run Holder (59.9), Pickering, Masters, Lambert. 3-3, 3-3.
2 - Wilson-Dean (awarded), Ayres, Davey, Bacon (fell/exc). 3-3, 6-6.
3 - Starke (60.2), Ostergaard, Clegg, Morley. 5-1, 11-7.
4 - Hansen (60.5), Davey, Wells (15m), Bacon. 3-3, 14-10.
5 - Masters (60.8), Starke, Pickering, Ostergaard. 2-4, 16-14.
6 - Wells (60.7), Ayres, Holder, Lambert. 1-5, 17-19.
7 - Hansen (61.4), Wilson-Dean, Clegg, Morley. 5-1, 22-20.
8 - Pickering (61.4), Wilson-Dean, Lambert, Ayres. 3-3, 25-23.
9 - Starke (61.1), Ostergaard, Wells, Davey. 5-1, 30-24.
10 - Holder (61.4), Lambert, Clegg, Ayres. 5-1, 35-25.
11 - Masters (t/r, 61.6), Wilson-Dean, Pickering, Hansen (ret). 2-7, 37-32.
12 - re-run Starke (61.8), Ayres, Morley, Bacon. 3-3, 40-35.
13 - Holder (61.9), Wells, Masters, Hansen. 3-3, 43-38.
14 - re-run Ostergaard (62.6), Ayres, Clegg, Wilson-Dean (fell/exc). 3-3, 46-41.
15 - re-run Wells (62.7), Holder, Masters, Starke (fell/exc). 2-4, 48-45.
* Panthers asset Danny Phillips suffered a broken back and femur in a track crash yesterday.
Phillips was injured while racing for his National League club, King’s Lynn Young Stars, at Mildenhall. He had to be airlifted to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.